“I personally believe in the right of a person to make an informed decision. I subscribe to the right of human beings to make a choice. The LGBT community is part of our society and are entitled to the same rights available to all human beings.”
So said Cheche Lazaro, who – as early as 1994 – helped provide media coverage to the Filipino LGBT community by doing a story on the first-ever solidarity march in the Philippines (and in Asia), thereby helping facilitate mainstreaming of LGBT awareness in Philippine society.
Cheche is, of course, one of the most respected journalists in the Philippines.
Born Cecilia Aldaba-Lim in 1945 in Los Angeles, California to an engineer father and a psychologist mother, Cheche (the name she called herself when she first learned to speak) began her career as a journalist in the mid-1980s with ABS-CBN. There, she became director and manager of the Public Affairs Department, and was appointed to become the lead of then President Corazon Aquino’s visit to Indonesia and Singapore. In 1988, Cheche left ABS-CBN, and – with the help her fellow journalist friends Luchi Cruz-Valdez (news head of TV5) and Maria Ressa (CEO and executive editor of Rappler) – Probe Productions Inc. was born.
In Probe Productions’ 24-year life, under Cheche’s leadership, it produced several revolutionary programs, including 5 and Up, Art Is Kool, Gameplan, Cheche Lazaro Presents and Probe Profiles. Eventually, though, Probe also decided to take a bow.
Cheche, unlike many other veteran journalists, has a reputation of someone who cannot be paid off or kept quiet when something needs to be said – these among many other things made Cheche as the most credible, reliable, concrete and consistent in the world of journalism.
Over the years, Cheche featured several LGBT stories in her special documentaries and reports, and in her talk show on ANC (Media In Focus), she tackled the LGBT Filipinos’ fight for equality, even as other journalists and networks deemed the issue as petty and irrelevant.
For her works, Cheche received several awards and recognitions, including the KBP Golden Dove Awards, Catholic Mass Media Awards (Hall of Fame), New York Festival, Malolos Heritage Foundation, Philippine Movie Press Club, Gawad CCP para sa Telebisyon, and citations from local government units for her outstanding contribution to broadcast journalism.
“Our argument was always that the star of the show is the story and if we can make a good story, then that in itself is a source of pride,” Cheche said.
Cheche, nonetheless, continued to make documentaries on pressing issues plaguing the country via a TV special called Cheche Lazaro Presents (CLP), which produced episodes on election automation, political dynasties, soap operas, pork barrel, sin tax, among others. It was CLP that, more recently, produced “LGBT”, which provided mainstream coverage of the plight of the Filipino LGBT circa 2013. Interviewees included celebrities Aiza Seguerra (a singer, songwriter and actor who exclusively came out as a transgender person in the episode) and Ogie Diaz; transman Nick Fernandez; Atty. Germaine Leonin and Toni Abuan (LGBT advocates and a lesbian couple); Tet Gallardo (lesbian minister of the Unitarian Universalist Association); Ramon Busa (president of Home for the Golden Gays); and Bemz Benedito (managing director of MYNP-LGBT). “LGBT” attempted to have a closer look and explain what it’s like to be an LGBT, and for the first time on Philippine television, helped provide clearer definition of being LGBT.
“Like any other issue facing our society, our intention as media practitioners is to clarify, inform and give our audience information that is based on facts. Many times, our understanding of issues are based on wrong information or a lack of it as well as biased perceptions,” Cheche said. “The challenge to telling a good story is to get all the facts right, to present both sides of the issue and be fair to all parties concerned.”
In 2012, Cheche also showed her support for members of the LGBT community, when she joined the “I dare to care about equality” photographic campaign spearheaded by the Bahaghari Center for LGBT Research, Education and Advocacy (Bahaghari Center) and Outrage Magazine. In it, she said: “We all want to live in a world where our right to choose is guaranteed and respected… Let us treat each other not on the basis of the choices make, but on how we are as human beings.”
Today, as Cheche enters the world of retirement and starts to return to a more private life, she considers her moments as a full-time lola to a grandson who lives all the way in Boston as another milestone in her life. And yet, for many – including the LGBT Filipinos – she will always be remembered not only for her journalistic efforts, but on how she helped use journalism to advance equal rights for all, including the LGBT community.
“Hopefully, we are able to do justice in presenting the views of the LGBT community with fairness and accuracy,” Cheche said. “I think that being true to who you are (whether LGBT or not) is what matters most. Honesty and an openness to well-meant advise goes a long way. It moves past the superficial onto a more real appreciation of people as persons, not labels,” Cheche ended.